CNN’s chief media correspondent Brian Stelter has had plenty of news media about which to correspond lately. And while the Reliable Sources anchor had to rely on The Late Show’s thankfully edited-down (and cheekily re-edited) version of New York Governor and multiply accused sexual harasser Andrew Cuomo’s Wednesday resignation speech, since he napped through the actual press conference, he had a snappy excuse. “He’s not smart enough to resign,” Stelter told Colbert about his thought process in grabbing some afternoon winks in lieu of live-watching the governor of New York defiantly flee from office (if that’s a thing) in the face of at least eleven women’s accusations of criminal sexual behavior. Nobody’s saying that keeping up with the 24-hour news cycle isn’t exhausting, but, still, Stelter.
Colbert joshed his first-time guest about that ill-advised nap, but spent more than a few minutes grilling Stelter about CNN’s questionable handling of Cuomo’s reign as governor, especially since one of its major talking heads shares a last name with said elected official. Confirming the New York Times’ report that CNN’s Chris Cuomo was, indeed, assisting his big brother’s communications team in navigating that whole “accused of being a sex creep” minefield, Stelter stuck up for his network’s handling of the “really complicated” situation, but Colbert wasn’t having it. “Why? He doesn’t,” was Colbert’s retort to Stelter’s suggestion that CNN “has to have boundaries” between—just for one example—an embattled official talking political strategy with one of the newspeople supposedly applying the most disinterested journalistic standards to several major scandals. Stelter countered that “there’s no page” in the journalism handbook for such a scenario, but, as Colbert noted doggedly, CNN management’s decision to take Chris Cuomo off the big brother beat during this scandal doesn’t make up for the fact that the CNN Cuomo brothers’ double act all through the pandemic (including while Andrew Cuomo’s handling of it was under serious scrutiny) undoubtedly helped raise the governor’s political profile.
Still, there are news scandals involving torn familial versus journalistic loyalty and then there are news scandals about an entire, rudderless, “automatic contrarian” news outlet seemingly dedicated to pushing white supremacist insurrection against American democracy while simultaneously spewing medical misinformation laser-targeted at picking off its all-too-receptive viewers. As Stelter noted, his 2020 exposé of Fox News, Hoax, is already out with a 12-chapter update chronicling just how bad things have gotten since Fox’s favorite son (and Fox talent landing zone) Donald Trump was voted out of office. “Trump’s loss radicalized the network,” said Stelter, leaving Colbert to wonder how the scandal and propaganda-riddled pre-Trump Fox could be considered the good old days.
As Stelter noted, his sources inside Fox News say that things have actually gotten worse since the well-deserved shit-canning of both Fox CEO Ailes and fellow accused sexual predator Donald Trump. “They are disturbed about what happens on the air,” stated Stelter of those Fox News employees willing to spill to an anchor at a competing news network, telling Colbert that Fox is “afraid of its viewers.” To that point, Stelter said that, for all Ailes’ well-deserved reputation for personal and professional awfulness, “at least they knew who was in charge.” Whereas now those Fox insiders desperately clinging to the fantasy that they’re still actual journalists now have to worry that telling uncomfortable truths will drive their viewers to even more radically and farcically right-wing outlets like Newsmax or OAN in their quest to have the world conform to their increasingly blinkered and fringe-adjacent views of it.
Stelter swore to Colbert that, while many of these possibly self-deluding real newspeople have fled Fox as the “true believers” have grabbed power in the wake of Ailes’ 2016 ouster, there are still Fox employees who know Fox is “just selling the product they think their clients want.” You know, like the Big Lie about stolen elections, the equally egregious falsehood that the January 6 coup was not a coup, and the ongoing toxic flood of Fox COVID misinformation. As to that last point, Colbert, citing the aging demographic makeup of Fox-watchers, mused, “It doesn’t seem like a great business model to kill your viewer.” Stelter, responding with a shrug, agreed, saying of Fox’s apparent suicide mission to nay-say medical experts in the face of once-more rising COVID deaths among the unvaccinated, “Fox has lost control of the monster that it’s created.” Well, not to worry, Fox loyalists, it turned out just fine in the end for Doctor Frankenstein. Pretty sure that’s how it went.